- Cancer Information
- Cancer treatment
- Managing chemotherapy side effects
- Appetite changes, nausea or vomiting
Appetite changes, nausea or vomiting
It is common for your appetite to change when you are going through chemotherapy. The drugs may also temporarily change how food tastes. Sometimes you may not feel hungry or you may prefer different types of food.
Chemotherapy can make you feel sick (nauseated) or cause you to vomit. Not everyone feels sick during or after chemotherapy, but if nausea affects you, it will usually start a few hours after treatment. Nausea may last for many hours and be accompanied by vomiting or retching. Sometimes nausea lasts for days after treatment.
Often the best way to manage nausea is to prevent it from starting. Anti-nausea (antiemetic) medicine helps most people, but finding the right one can take time. If nausea or vomiting continue after using the prescribed medicine, let your nurse or doctor know so that another medicine can be tried. Steroids may also be used to manage nausea.
Being unable to keep liquids down because of vomiting can cause you to become dehydrated. Signs of dehydration include a dry mouth and skin, dark urine, dizziness and confusion. It is not safe to be left alone if you are vomiting a lot, as the confusion may make it difficult to realise you have become seriously dehydrated.
I would get side effects like diarrhoea, vomiting and constipation. I took ginger to help with the nausea, and I tried to live my normal life whenever I felt well enough.
Learn more about managing:
- Eat what you feel like, when you feel like it. Have frequent snacks instead of large meals.
- Try to eat extra on days when you have an appetite.
- Avoid strong odours and cooking smells that may put you off eating. It might help to prepare meals ahead and freeze them for days you don’t feel like cooking.
- If the taste of certain foods has changed, don’t force yourself to eat them. Your sense of taste should return to normal after treatment ends.
- If you don’t feel like eating solid foods, try enriching your drinks with powdered milk, yoghurt, eggs or honey.
- Don’t use nutritional supplements without your doctor’s advice, as some could interfere with treatment.
- Ask a dietitian for advice on the best eating plan during treatment and recovery.
- Eat a light, bland meal before your treatment (e.g. soup with dry biscuits, crackers or toast).
- Keep sipping fluids so that you don’t get dehydrated. If you aren’t able to keep fluids down, contact your doctor or hospital immediately. They may be able to treat the vomiting, or you may need to have fluids through an intravenous drip in hospital.
- Sip fluids throughout the day. Sucking on ice cubes, iceblocks or jellies can also increase your fluid intake. If water tastes unpleasant, flavour it with ginger cordial or syrup.
- If your stomach is upset, try drinking fizzy drinks such as soda water or dry ginger ale.
- If you wake up feeling sick, eat a dry biscuit or slice of toast rather than skipping food.
- Listen to the The Thing About Cancer podcast episode on appetite loss and nausea.
Once I started chemotherapy, I went off my food. My mouth felt very dry, which made food taste unappetising. Adding extra sauce helped.
Dr Prunella Blinman, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, and Clinical Senior Lecturer, Sydney Medical School, The University of Sydney, NSW; Gillian Blanchard, Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Lecturer, School of Nursing and Midwifery, The University of Newcastle, NSW; Julie Bolton, Consumer; Keely Gordon-King, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; John Jameson, Consumer; Dr Zarnie Lwin, Medical Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and Senior Lecturer, School of Medicine, The University of Queensland, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Felicia Roncolato, Medical Oncology Staff Specialist, Macarthur Cancer Therapy Centre, NSW. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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